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Bristol-Myers Squibb is one of the biggest privately owned pharmaceuticals in the world. The company not only manufactures drugs, but it also participates in clinical drug trials that aim to improve the conditions of the critically ill by using diverse and intense futuristic treatment methods (Romano, 2001).
The company was accused of fraud in 2002. Investigations proved that there were some accounting disparities. The investigations led to the placement of a monitor to check the company’s moves. The situation got worse and destroyed the reputation the company had already built.
This essay analyzes how the company used corporate social responsibility to build back its reputation. Other things that could have been done to salvage the reputation of the company are also discussed in the paper.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is defined as the self-regulation of a corporate organization. It is commonly intertwined with the business model. Deogun and Harris (2001) explain that CSR allows organizations to comply with the spirit of the law.
However, in more recent CSR ventures, companies have taken a firm stand in expressing CSR by doing social good. Deogun and Harris (2001) observe that CSR has also been used to improve the public image of firms, especially after a corporation has experienced bad reviews and publicity.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, as a private organization, has participated in CSR activities. Like numerous similar organizations, Bristol-Myers Squibb has registered some ‘social good’ in the society through community-based actions.
However, as “Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) reveals, these measures are meant to improve the public image of the pharmaceutical company.
The company has been associated with fraudulent activities, which have damaged its public image and reputation. “Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) asserts that the company was involved in a scandal in 2002. Investigations revealed that the company’s statements had been altered from 1999 to 2002.
Even though the company did not accept or deny the allegations, it agreed to pay US$150 million as proposed by the United States Department of Justice.
The company has also been involved in many lawsuits against some of its drugs. In particular, in the same year of the accounting scandal, the company was sued for taking a monopoly of the drug Taxol that is used in cancer treatment. The company was painted as irresponsible, unnecessarily expensive and selfish.
These are qualities that do not go well with customer-based companies. The company decided to indulge in CSR in an attempt to save face and the business. It also agreed to comply with a monitor, who was appointed by the US Attorney.
The monitor checked the company’s ethics guidelines and the finances to ensure the same mistake was not repeated.
Despite the efforts, the company was still in trouble. “Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) explains that in 2006, the monitor requested the resignation of the then CEO Peter Dolan. Investigations revealed that the leaders in the company were still colluding on ways of pocketing money.
The company decided that Dolan’s resignation would be a welcome, positive publicity for the company. It would appear that this was one of the biggest decisions for the company because the Department of Justice went easy on them after the resignation.
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In addition, all the executives who were involved in the past scandals were forced to leave office after Dolan. This discussion shows that Bristol-Myers Squibb was eager to solve the crisis and move forward. All the actions that were taken were aimed at sustaining the company.
The company also used CSR to get out of the crisis. Since its scandals in 2006, the company was ranked the best company in terms of CSR in 2009 and one of the top ten in the last four years. The company has invested in CSR since 2007 to get back on its feet.
Using CSR to improve the public image is one of the most effective ways for a company to become a household name. It suffices to mention that there is nothing wrong with what Bristol-Myers Squibb has been doing in terms of CSR. However, there are several other options that that the company could have used to improve their public image.
One advantage of CSR is that it attracts the masses. Corporate social responsibility gets a lot of airplay in the media, which draws a lot of masses in return. A second advantage of the practice is that it allows for-profit companies to appear as if they care about other things, not just money.
It is common knowledge that for-profit businesses will always do what they have to do to register the most profits. However, any sign that the for-profit company is giving back to the community allows the community to perceive the business as not only genuine, but also caring.
Prieto-Carrón et al. (2006) explain that this helps in developing loyalty in a business and its clients.
The biggest disadvantage of CSR is that it can be expensive. Drawing from Bristol-Myers, millions of dollars are being used to support the CSR causes that target communities; for example, the health outreaches and free drug trials. All these consume a lot of money that would have been used to develop the business.
However, Deogun and Harris (2001) are of the opinion that using the company’s money to support other noble causes shows that the company is not only concerned about the money it makes, but also about the impact it has on the society.
The company has used the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, previously the Bristol-Myers Fund, as a corporate social responsibility strategy. The Foundation supports numerous projects that target the community. For example, Bristol-Myers has invested in a children’s hospital located in New Jersey.
The hospital targets children from remote areas who have mental illnesses and conditions that would be expensive to treat in the private clinics. In addition, the company gives the patients the best medicine to ensure that they can control their conditions.
It is important to mention that establishing a children’s hospital denotes that the company cares about the future of the society, as it takes care of the future generations. Additionally, it shows that the company is humane and cares for those who cannot afford such delicate care.
Bristol-Myers has also invested in educating vulnerable populations on the prevention, treatment, and cure of some of the health conditions that affect such communities. For example, “Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) cites India as one of the countries that have benefitted from this type of CSR from the pharmaceutical company.
India is not only one of the most populous places on earth, but it is also one of the poorest countries. Health facilities and health care are not very diverse, despite the interesting factor that a significant number people in India are doctors.
The Indians tend to mix modern medicine with traditional medicine, which has led to confusion and poor health practices in the general region.
“Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) also reveals that Bristol-Myers Squibb has invested millions of dollars in clinical trials for advanced medicine. Clinical trials have been used to determine the efficacy of new drugs and their side effects.
To make the whole project society-oriented, the company allows people who are in critical conditions to get advanced treatment in their facilities if the drugs are on trial (McCarthy, 2002). It suffices to mention that the people involved in the drug trials usually volunteer.
They are made aware of everything that could happen during the trial to avoid any lawsuits later. The trials are also carefully monitored, and the people involved keenly picked to ensure that they do not put their lives in danger.
“Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) explains that Bristol-Myers Squibb has also been big on corporate giving. Corporate giving is donating money to non-governmental organizations.
On the company’s website, there is the option of applying for a corporate donation and the guidelines that have to be considered before and after the application. Bristol-Myers has used this type of corporate social responsibility activity to get deeper into the community.
Many of the non-governmental organizations that the company aids focus on community-based activities like outreaches and door to door visits. The company also encourages the health facilities it helps to allow the nurses practice community nursing.
This type of nursing involves sending the health practitioners to the community and having them teach people how to take care better of themselves. The pharmaceutical company is recognized during all these corporate social responsibility activities.
It gives the company a marketing advantage by making it a household name and becoming endorsed by the entire community. “Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring” (2007) argues that the endorsement of a community ensures that the products or services of the company have a monopoly in the society.
For business enterprises such as Bristol-Myers, this comprehensive acknowledgment is useful for increasing profits.
It is important to note that most of the CSR activities are done in developing countries. Prieto-Carrón, Lund-Thomsen, Chan, Muro, and Bhushan (2006) explain that there are two reasons that explain this trend. First, developing countries are perceived to be in more need than the developed countries.
Indeed, there are people who believe that health care facilities and practices in developing countries are deplorable. Whereas this might be true, different developing countries have different economic situations.
Despite this, the idea that a private company is supporting a noble cause in Malawi, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, is compelling even to critics. The second reason CSR targets developing countries is that companies use this opportunity to advertise themselves in the developed countries.
As mentioned, CSR is a type of marketing strategy because it improves public image. Thus, such companies do the CSR elsewhere and use their data and success in the community-based projects to market themselves in the developed countries, where they get more profits.
However, this does not mean that the companies are not allowed to undertake CSR projects in the developed countries. As mentioned, CSR is not only about the social good that the company does, but it is also the quality of service that it gives.
In regard to Bristol-Myers, the company has to give high-quality drugs, as well, for people to trust the brand.
The first alternative to CSR, as explained by Deogun and Harris (2001), is seeking donors. In CSR, the company gives out money. However, the company gets an opportunity to ask for money when it seeks donors. For Bristol-Myers, an endorsement from the Florida Department of Health would have worked wonders on its public image.
The Department of Health was responsible for highlighting the problems the pharmaceutical company faced. It revealed that the company’s highest managers were involved in a corruption scheme that saw them walk away with millions of dollars.
The accounting figures did not match up, which led to the assigning of a monitor to check the company’s activities.
Thus, one pro of getting an endorsement from the Department is that it shows confidence in the company, showing that the company can be trusted. In the same vein, an endorsement by the monitor would have gone a long way in restoring the faith the public had in the company.
However, this situation was made worse when the monitor recommended that the then CEO, Dolan steps down due to corruption. This made the company appear weak, greedy, and untrustworthy among its clients. Many customers turned to competitors for their drugs, as they could not trust the Bristol-Myers.
Since Dolan stepped down, however, it would appear that both the monitor and the Department of Health have approved Bristol-Myers. Another advantage of endorsements is the additional funds received if the firm making the endorsement is a donor.
One of the disadvantages of the strategy is the likelihood that the public will not trust the company as expected. Compared to CSR, donor and organization endorsement do not affect the community directly. Thus, people can argue that the big companies are trying to help each other out, instead of helping the community.
Another alternative solution that could have been used was the firing of the corrupt employees. It is true that the company fired many senior employees who were associated with the accounting scandal. However, it did so in the wrong fashion.
Public outcry demands fast action; thus, the rest of the people who were involved should have followed suit immediately the CEO resigned. Instead, the rest were fired much later when more damage had been done to the company’s reputation. Indeed, this tact alone would not have restored public trust in the company fully. However, combined with CSR, the tact would have been the best option for the company.
The first advantage, or pro, of firing the responsible individuals immediately is that there is less damage to the company’s reputation. The fired employees can serve as a reason the public should trust the company. In addition, the action shows that the company does not tolerate bad behavior.
Moreover, the company can blame any other aftermath on the employees who were fired.
The biggest con of firing employees is the possibility of the employees suing the company. However, this will only be a problem if the company fires individuals based on allegations that have not been confirmed.
In the same vein, the public can still blame the company even after the responsible individuals have been laid off because it might appear they are throwing their employees under the bus.
As mentioned, very many employees were forced to resign later on. This went to prove that the whole company was corrupt, and this fact would have made the PR problem much bigger if the company had adopted this strategy.
So far, Bristol-Myers Squibb has been living one day at a time, hoping that their CSR plan will ensure a relatively good public image. It is true that the company has improved since 2006.
However, like many other big pharmaceutical companies, it is under constant criticism regarding the price of drugs, the profit the company makes, and the drug trials it undertakes.
In order to fully create an exceptional public image, it is crucial that the company invests heavily in rebuilding the community’s trust. This can be done in several ways, as described below.
First, Bristol-Myers Squibb should adopt a system of accountability and transparency. It can be argued that the initial problem with the company arose due to lack of transparency and accountability, which made it easier for people to steal from the company.
Lack of accountability also made it difficult for the public to find out what was going on in the company. Currently, people might not trust the company because they are not sure that the same thing will not happen again. To help avoid this, the company has to come up with a better way of proving transparency and accountability.
The company can also benefit from having more than just a responsibility statement. If one were to visit Bristol-Myers web page right now, they would be able to see the responsibility statement by the CEO. The issue of the responsibility statement is discussed widely.
Despite this, a company needs more than just the statement to have an impact on the community. In the case of Bristol-Myers, it would appear that the company is trying very hard to please the public, which might not auger well with the clients.
The clientele wants to feel special, but they do not want to feel stupid in the process. Putting up a responsibility statement is not of importance if the company does not believe in giving back to the society.
It would also be advisable for the company to ensure that its clinical trials are done in a more professional and ethical manner. Pharmaceutical companies are usually accused of restricting or taking monopoly over a drug and selling it at a very high price later on.
Bristol-Myers has been involved in such an accusation. To help reduce this negative publicity, the company has to ensure that the clinical and drug trials are done well, according to the guidelines provided by the relevant regulatory bodies.
If no guidelines have been set, then the company should make an effort to do so. These guidelines will help any staff know what they should and should not do in any situation.
Another suggestion that can be made to help improve the public image of Bristol-Myers is the use of CSR not only for social good, but also to improve its brand. Drawing from the definition of CSR, the business model is essential to the drafting of a CSR plan. This means that the goals and visions of the company are also part of its CSR.
Thus, strong mission and vision statements will help create a better public image, For instance, the company can consider including community-based and targeted goals in its business plan. This way, the society will know that the company cares about them.
While discussing the issue of business plan, it is important to also mention that there are several things that the company can use to strengthen the mission and vision statements and improve the business plan, as discussed in the next section of the paper.
Last, it is important for the company to have a strong media campaign and communications department. These are the two entities that can help the company maintain its public image. Bristol-Myers has been using CSR to develop its public image and build it from the tarnished one it had.
However, maintaining the good public image is not easy. In fact, it is possible that the company invests more in societal CSR just so that it can maintain the good public image it desires. The easiest way of doing this has a strong media campaign that is backed by equally strong communication strategies.
The communication strategies should also focus on creating crises management models that the company can use because it is always best to be prepared for the worst at all times.
Suggestions for Implementation
There are two things that can be suggested for the company to implement. First, the balanced scorecard is a popular tool for evaluating a firm’s performance. The importance of this tool is to change the organizational culture and ensure accountability in the company.
As mentioned, the goals, mission, and vision statements are also fundamental to creating and maintaining a company’s reputation. For example, imagine company A whose goal is to deliver the highest quality of products and services to its clients.
Company A’s vision statement is to enhance adequate user ability of its products and services, while the mission statement is to ensure that all the products and services are of top quality. Company B, on the other hand, has a goal of maximizing the profits registered.
Its mission statement is to ensure it gets as many clients as possible, while its vision statement is to ensure that its clients are satisfied and keep coming back. The two companies are very different, based on their goals, missions, and vision statement.
They could be selling the same product or offering the same service, but this would not matter because of the difference in the three aspects mentioned. Clients are more likely to approach and be loyal to company A than company B.
Bristol-Myers has a very strong responsibility statement. However, this is not enough to ensure a better public image. A balanced scorecard will also allow the company to ensure accountability, which is crucial for Bristol-Myers because of its tarnished history.
Moreover, the scorecard will make it easier for the management to know what the company needs, how to get it, and who to be in charge of the venture.
A balanced scorecard presents more options than any other model. It not only ensures that everything is in check, but it also gives the company a clear way forward. Balanced scorecards also help the company identify problems.
For example, if the previous managers had implemented the scorecard, they would have noted the accounting errors and resolved the issue from within before it exploded and attracted the public and ruined the company’s reputation. The scorecard will prevent numerous blunders that the company can make.
The second thing that can be implemented is a media and communications campaign, specifically the use of new media. The Internet has been used by many companies to make and break reputations.
In fact, without the Internet, the likelihood of other people in different parts of the world ever knowing about the Bristol-Myers’ accounting scandal would have been low.
Despite the challenges one might get when dealing with new media, one of its biggest advantages is that it is the easiest and cheapest way of improving and monitoring a company’s reputation.
The media and communications campaign should include intensive coverage of the company’s activities through the Internet. Making extensive campaigns on social media, for example, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can do this. The ease of access and the ease of sharing within social media will also make the outreaches effective.
The company can use these platforms to make a name and answer any questions that the public might have. In fact, encouraging the company to ask questions about the quality of its drugs, the clinical and drug tests, and its accountability will give the company a good chance to change the perception people have.
The company can also use the platforms mentioned above to attract new clients. It is much easier to convince a new client than to try and convince an old client who felt betrayed by the company’s accusations.
Further, keeping tabs on the social media networks will allow the company to know what the public thinks about the company and what its competitors are up to.
For any business, knowing what the competitor is doing is good because plans can be made to do the same thing better or introduce an entirely different concept that will excite the targeted clientele more.
The communication and media campaign also includes strengthening the web pages associated with the company. It suffices to mention that the Bristol-Myers web page is very user-friendly and appropriate. This allows the users to maneuver and learn more about the company and its products and services.
As mentioned, crisis communication is part of the media campaign. The only time a company can break or make a public image is during a crisis. The way the company will handle the crisis will highlight its strengths and weaknesses.
It is important to appreciate the fact that Bristol-Myers complied with the government and encouraged investigations. Afterward, the company’s management made a decision, even though it appeared forced, to let go of all employees involved in the accounting scandal.
A communications team would also have given press statements and done everything necessary to show that the company was eager to find out the truth, bring the culprits to justice, and improve the management of the company.
If this had been done soon enough, the impact of the investigation would not have affected the company’s reputation as much as it did.
In conclusion, the main problem Bristol-Myers Squibb faced was the accounting scandal. This scandal destroyed the faith and trust the public had in the company. The company invested in social good, also known as the corporate social responsibility to amend the situation.
The company has managed to support several noble causes all over the globe in an attempt to regain favor from its clients. It can be asserted that this strategy had been working well since 2006 when the company’s CEO and other officials resigned.
However, there are many other things that the company has to do to ensure that its public image is not tarnished again. One such thing is to adopt a balanced scorecard that provides accountability.
In addition, the company should invest in a media and communications campaign that will help it develop crisis management strategies so that history does not repeat itself.
Bristol-Myers Squibb restructuring includes medical imaging unit sale. (2007). Medical Device Daily, 11(222), 1-9.
Deogun, N., & Harris, G. (2001, January 11). Bristol-Myers Squibb leans against sale, and toward spinoff, of orthopedic unit. Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition. p. B4
McCarthy, M. (2002). US states file lawsuit against Bristol-Myers Squibb. Lancet, 359(9323), 2092.
Prieto-Carrón, M., Lund-Thomsen, P., Chan, A., Muro, A., & Bhushan, C. (2006). Critical perspectives on CSR and development: what we know, what we don’t know, and what we need to know. International Affairs, 82(5), 977-987
Romano, M. (2001). Drug giant buys high profile at site. Modern Healthcare, 31(14), 4